All About Multiple Sclerosis

More MS news articles for April 2004

USPS fails to consider abilities of truck driver with MS

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March 29, 2004
Federal Human Resources Week

Case name:

Masteller v. U.S. Postal Service, 104 LRP 7617 (EEOC 02/12/04).

Ruling:

The agency subjected the complainant to discrimination on the basis of his multiple sclerosis when it disqualified him from driving a tractor-trailer without conducting an individualized assessment of his abilities or attempting to reasonably accommodate him.

What it means:

An agency is not required to employ an individual with a disability who is a safety threat because of a disability. However, it must conduct an individualized assessment to determine if there really is a significant risk of substantial harm that cannot be eliminated or sufficiently reduced through reasonable accommodation.

Summary:

A tractor-trailer driver alleged he was discriminated against on the basis of his disability (multiple sclerosis) when he was denied medical clearance by an agency physician to drive tractor-trailers. The agency issued a final decision finding no discrimination. The EEOC reversed on appeal, finding the agency did not conduct the required individualized assessment of the complainant's abilities.

The complainant told an agency physician he had MS during a fitness-for-duty examination. Because MS is a disqualifying condition under Department of Transportation regulations, which were voluntarily adopted by the agency, the complainant was placed on light duty. Medical opinions solicited from other physicians did not indicate the complainant should be barred from driving tractor-trailers. Nevertheless, the agency physician refused to recertify the complainant to drive trailers.

The EEOC found the complainant was substantially limited with regard to the major life activity of working. His MS made him ineligible to drive commercial motor vehicles subject to the DOT regulations. Therefore, he was "significantly restricted from working as a driver of commercial motor vehicles as compared to the average person having comparable training, skills and abilities."

The EEOC further found the complainant was a "qualified" individual with a disability. He had been "successfully and safely driving commercial motor vehicles for five years."

An agency can require that an employee not pose a direct threat to safety. However, such decisions must be made pursuant to an individualized assessment of the person's abilities and specific medical information. Even if the employee poses a direct threat, the agency is obligated to determine whether reasonable accommodation would eliminate the threat or reduce it to an acceptable level.

The agency did not perform the required individualized assessment. It relied on the DOT regulations, which were not mandatory. Because the agency failed to show the complainant posed a significant risk of substantial harm, the EEOC found it discriminated against the complainant. Because the agency did not make a good faith effort to reasonably accommodate the complainant, the EEOC found it was liable for compensatory damages.
 

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